Pairing an exciting physical adventure with a great meal is my idea of a good time. And, I didn’t have to go far to find my favorite gastro-adventure this year. No Swiss funiculars involved. No Andean peaks. No raging Canadian rivers.
Instead, I simply hailed a cab in downtown San Francisco, hopped out 15 minutes later at the famous old Cliff House, and set out on the amazing California Coastal Trail. About ten miles in its entirety, the trail wends its way through forests and toney residential neighborhoods, along sheer cliffs, across sandy coves, and up and down steep dunes.
It’s an extraordinary blend of natural landscapes and well-known man-made attractions such the Praesidio, Sutro baths, and Fort Point, a Civil War fort. Much of this adventure can be called a “stroll,” but anyone looking for a workout won’t be disappointed by the steps running up and down the cliffs, and the 100-plus “stairs” carved into a sand-dune “wall” near Baker Beach. As an added attraction, the shimmering Golden Gate Bridge is almost never out of sight.
On a glorious, sunny autumn day, we walked from Cliff House, past Sutro Baths, darted in and out of the thick forest of Lincoln Park, strolled through the affluent enclave of Sea Cliff, peeking into gates to see the magical mansions set on the edge of the cliffs. We then dropped down to long, sandy China and Baker beaches and walked along the water’s edge, until we climbed back up again on those 100-plus sand “steps.”(Photo from EveryTrail.com which gives an excellent step-by-step guide to this hike.)
Continuing past the Praesidio, Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point, Crissy Field, and the Marina Green Park, we finally turned into the residential streets of the Marina neighborhood and found our way to bustling Chestnut Street. Total walking time was about 2 ½ - 3 hours. It's hard to give an exact mileage, because there are many options along the way. Mapquest estimates six miles, several hiking guides say it's closer to 10 miles.
The “gastro” part of the adventure was equally exciting.
Tacolicious was the pot of gold at the end of our ramble. This casual emporium of creative Mexican fare is wildly popular, with crowds clustered at the door and on the sidewalk pretty much any hour of the day. (There are also T-Lishes in the Mission district and Palo Alto.)
I loved the fried local rock cod that’s paired with shredded cabbage and tangy cream sauce; the house-made chorizo sausage with succulent potato chunks; and the vegetarian butternut squash number that’s spiked with poblano peppers, red bell peppers, spicy pepitas, and slightly bitter greens. (The above photo, by Michael Macor for the San Francisco Chronicle, shows the asparagus, potato, mushroom and green garlic taco; traditional carnitas; beer-and-shot braised chicken; fried local rock cod.)
Since we were feeling “fit” (and totally deserving!) after our rousing hike, we also ordered the zesty shot-and-a-beer braised chicken tacos which are miraculously tender, and the braised short rib tacos that can thank guakillo chiles for their spicy, tangy, slightly smoky flavor. Each taco gets a “custom” dusting of onion, cilantro, cabbage, lettuce, tomato, cheese, or whatever other crunchy bit will add to the fun.
Though it bills itself as a “cocktail-driven restaurant,” with 120 tequilas begging to be sipped, Tacolicious also offers imaginative alcohol-free concoctions that are ideal lunch accompaniments. (The menu heading is “Drivers, Kids and Recovering Bartenders.”) I love the Mia (cranberry juice, sparkling lemonade and fruit salsa), the Moss (passion fruit, pineapple, and sparkling limeade), and the Silas (lemon, lime and mint).
For folks not in the mood for tacos (really?), the menu also offers “snacks” that range from a creamy, dreamy guacamole and snappy ceviche with apple and orange bits, to the popular albacore tuna tostada with crispy leeks and chipotle mayo, and the pork-beef meatballs done with roasted tomato-chipotle salsa and cotija cheese. Then there are the chips 'n salsa. Let's just say I feel sorry for all the people who haven’t burned up a bunch of calories before hitting Tacolicious. They must have to stop after just one basket of the warm, addicting tortilla chips (served with three sensational house-made sauces, hot, medium and mild). I had to be dragged out of there before I could completely polish off our third basket.
Tacolicious in the Marina is a small place , one long, narrow room with a smattering of tables, an inviting copper-topped bar, and a constant cluster of happy people waiting for a place to sit. We were lucky enough to score one of the tiny tables in the sidewalk enclosure, giving us front-row-center seats to the exuberant party that is Chestnut Street.